Choose your friends carefully

There is a bit of a bloggers’ row going on between Liberal Democrat Nick Barlow and Oliver Kamm about the Lib Dems attitude to the Iraq war.

To be frank most of it is too close to semantic point-scoring to get my interest but I tend to side with Nick in his defence of the right of parties to disagree over issues of national security.

The alternative runs the risk of group-think although clearly there is a need for national unity to be enforced if the country faces a threat such as invasion.

But what really seems to have upset Nick is Oliver’s attack on the Lib Dem participation in Stop the War events:

“The Liberal Democrats didn’t argue the honest case for containment. Instead they violated what I shall call (as Nick takes such exception to the term ‘political rule’) the informal conventions of democratic politics by taking their stand alongside the Stop the War Coalition, an organisation whose chairman is a declared Communist and whose ‘Convenor’ is a leading member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, which explicitly called for an Anglo-American military defeat.

The Liberal Democrats thus allied themselves with the totalitarian and antisemitic Left in the certain cause of leaving in power a genocidal tyrant today, tomorrow and, through his appalling sons, a generation hence. It is not ‘simply opinions’ to observe this but a fact, about which we must all make our own value judgements.”

Which Nick considers a smear:

“Of course, to extend this argument, that means that organisations such as CND and the Quakers can also be decsribed in those terms, yet they never do get smeared like that (even though CND were a co-organiser of the protests) because everyone recognises it’s a completely flawed argument. It’s saying that because two groups both agree on one facet of one issue, they can both be assumed to share exact views on every facet of that issue, even when common sense tells you they don’t.”

Clearly the Lib Dems have little in common with the Trots and Stalinists in the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition and I don’t think Oliver is actually saying they do.

What he is saying is that they chose to ally themselves with anti-democratic forces – a fact which is indisputable. Charles Kennedy’s view on Iraq was not the same as the SWP’s or Andrew Murray’s but like them he shared a platform with the odious George Galloway, Harold Pinter, Tariq Ali and the rest.

In doing so, Kennedy was simply giving the Lib Dem seal of approval to the Stop the War Coalition – he helped give them legitimacy. If he found their views to be objectionable, he could have shown his opposition to the war without sharing a platform with Leninists and apologists for Saddam.

So for that matter could CND and the Quakers or Greens and Labour supporters of Stop the War. In fact they could all have organised another movement or another demonstration that expressed their more reasoned opposition to the war.

They didn’t though. They made their choice. They decided that while they may not like the SWP and their allies, that they would go along with them and even back them. Nick is right, that doesn’t turn them into the SWP, but it does beg some serious questions about their political principles and judgement.